Enterprise Content Management's BI Flavors

A large amount of overlapping functionality between business intelligence and enterprise content management tools indicates that BI will become an integral part of the ECM framework in coming years, our

March 13, 2006

7 Min Read
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Enterprise content management (ECM) has always been a bit of a wallflower -- acknowledged as important, but emerging slowly and flourishing most in professional and service-oriented firms where collaboration and knowledge management are paramount. But ECM offers a lot that's beyond the capabilities of most business intelligence systems -- the ability to handle semi-structured data in diverse document formats, team collaboration, support for ad hoc working groups, and knowledge management. All are of growing interest in the world of BI.

The ECM wallflower is blooming with the emergence of four trends in IT:

  • The need to unlock the value in semi-structured and unstructured data sources and add that data to the strong operational and predictive analytics available in structured, BI-based information.

  • The need to develop more agile and actionable enterprise-wide views of the organization. Putting in portals is nice, but they're useless if they can't consistently drill down and uncover the data underlying a problem, or if they fail to deliver alerts and warning alarms on a timely basis.

  • The need within enterprise portal views to facilitate both ad hoc and structured collaboration.

  • The need, both for compliance as well as general good management, to deliver single, trusted, reality-based views of the state of the organization, its finances, its product positions, its customer satisfaction profile, and its status with suppliers and partners.

In short, more timely, complete and trusted information is moving toward the head of the class in IT organizations.

ECM goals and services increasingly overlap with what is happening in the world of BI. Several BI vendors are delivering -- through data mining and text analytics -- unstructured and semi-structured data suitable for use in statistical, OLAP, and predictive analysis tools. Vendors are more frequently tapping ECM sources. BI also has been a driving force -- with scorecarding, performance metrics and business activity monitoring (BAM) -- in transforming dashboards and portals into the accepted display and presentation mode within organizations large and small.Moreover, the business process management (BPM) landscape has many overlaps among BI vendors, application server and middleware providers, and content management suppliers. The cross-platform, open, extensible nature of portals from such vendors as BEA, Cognos, Hyperion, SAS and many others is insurance against proprietary tools that may impose either server- or client-side dependencies to get the most out of a system.An Enterprise Content Management Profile

So let's look at some of the major vendors and trends that are "cross-fertilizing" ECM and BI. The top five or six ECM vendors -- such as Documentum, Filenet, IBM, Interwoven, OpenText and Vignette -- originated from a diverse range of technology areas, including:

  • Web content management, which controls aspects of the production and delivery of Web sites

  • Digital assets management, or the management of audio, video, animation, image and other design media

  • Enterprise records management, which ensures regulatory compliance with regard to archiving data

  • Knowledge management, which organizes, finds and helps share information on projects

  • Enterprise document management, which involves managing the creation and control of documents

These services cluster around a set of basic operations associated with all documents. But unlike with BI tools, these basic services are likely to be found in any ECM tools. They can be broken into roughly six major categories. Glance over these sets of functions and note the ones that you think have resonance with business intelligence:

Library Services, including:

  • Search functionality, which requires classifying, cataloging and indexing services for the discovery of assets.

  • Check-in and check-out versioning, including multi-versioning and automated reconciliation. Versioning protects documents from being updated by multiple parties simultaneously. It also provides a historical record of versions as documents evolve.

  • Archiving, including replication, backup, encryption, recovery and restoration services.

Access and Security:

  • Overlays the retrieval process with access and usage control privileges.

  • Maintains passwords and reports attempted violations.

  • Delivers single sign-on services for third-party user interfaces.

User Interface Services:

  • Clicks into third-party content-creation interfaces and adds security, library and workflow service menus

  • Provides portal or dashboard display and collaboration services, including user-requested portlets, alerts, KPIs, data windows and workgroup interfaces.

  • Provides for extensive user customization.

Content Storage and Delivery Services:

  • In conjunction with library services, provides caching and replication of content from an extremely wide set of applications types.

  • In conjunction with management services, provides metadata/content transfer for external bridges to other systems.

  • Provides document delivery services.

  • Delivers document output in a wide array of forms, including XML, HTML, PDF, SWF, Java, etc.

  • Conducts workflow with steps for branching, parallel processing, etc.

Workflow Management Services:

  • Creates and modifies workflows through a visual design tool.

  • Dynamically attaches documents and processing at any step f content management workflow.

  • Integrates document and forms with database default pre-fills or updates.

  • Automatically informs users of workflow status and requirements.

  • Applies a full range of file services: copy, move, delete, new folder, etc.

System Management Services:

  • Includes dialogs or wizards for installation, configuration, and workspace management.

  • Features dialogs and portlets with system performance charts for performance-tuning.

  • Includes APIs and open scripting language for customizing and batch-automating the system.

  • Maintains metadata about a system's resources, schemas, usage patterns, error conditions, etc.

ECM systems' functionality has become very broad in the past three to five years. The systems are attacking the problems of managing unstructured and semi-structured data that's locked in desktop application silos, and making that data available in portal and dashboard contexts.Such functions sound an awful lot like what BI is doing with scorecarding and performance measures. The versioning and version control parts of library services, above, could come in handy in the development of OLAP cubes, statistical analysis and custom reports. And ECM workflow functionality is strikingly similar to business activity monitoring and business process management.

BI doesn't require all of ECM's user interface services -- although borrowing some of its workgroup functionality could prove useful. BI has adopted and even shaped some ECM practices; but as seen below, BI is in the process of adopting many ECM methods.

BI Shapes The ECM Framework

The writing is on the wall -- much of the practice of BI will adopt substantial parts of the ECM framework. Some BI systems will become third-party content-creation interfaces working under an ECM framework. Others will make use of ECM services. At the same time, BI will help to shape workflow, metadata, and content-delivery services profoundly. The question of who arrives first at this larger set of services -- whether it be an ECM vendor like Documentum, an infrastructure vendor like BEA, or a BI player like Cognos -- is up in the air. But certainly, market forces are pushing vendors in this direction.

1) The duplication of services and near identical processing in some aspects of both BI and ECM are factors holding up not just initial costs of many BI packages (users who buy two or more BI or ECM packages are paying for some near-duplicate services) but also keeping ongoing operational costs high. Expertise has to be developed and maintained over so many similar but different systems and services.2) With ETL, XML, Java/J2EE and Web Services, the advantages of consolidating key ECM functions within tools could prove very compelling.

3) Major vendors including BEA, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, SAS and others are moving toward a coordinated framework among their BI, ERP, ECM and other enterprise application offerings.

Expect BI to become an integral part of a consolidated BI+ECM framework. And expect this convergence to happen within the next two to five years. Also do not be surprised if business activity monitoring, BPM, EAI and EII tools also start to draw on common routines and services and integrate with the BI+ECM cluster for things like metadata and interface system services.

Now Microsoft should leap on these notions, and say that's what it's been planning all along with Windows Services. IBM is likely to ditto that notion with its WebSphere Information Integration, as might Oracle with its Fusion middleware, and BEA with its Liquid Services. Look for integration, infrastructure and delivery of reliable and secure services to be the battleground for IT leadership in the next decade. Because BI leads the innovation and ROI parade, it will powerfully shape the emerging architectures.

Jacques Surveyer is an IT observer and speculates on these and broader ideas at his site Bookraft.com.0

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